Town hall snubbed by Liberal and Conservative candidates offers insight into Brampton’s healthcare crisis
There were few votes on offer at a Brampton town hall on healthcare that took place on Sunday. However, where the event lacked people who needed convincing, it was laden with important information candidates would do well to hear concerning healthcare and the responsibility of federal MPs.
At the Terry Miller Recreation Centre in Brampton Centre, a largely retired community of around 50 local residents gathered at the event organized by the Peel Health Coalition. In attendance were several community leaders, as well as a smattering of candidates.
Jordan Boswell and Navjit Kaur attended on behalf of the NDP, along with four candidates from the Green party, one member of the Communist Party and three representatives of the People’s Party of Canada. Organizers said none of the five Liberal or Conservative candidates in Brampton ridings responded to their invitation to attend the event.
Though the format of the event was a little informal, as PPC candidates jousted with the NDP and members of the audience on immigration and Brampton’s healthcare system, the information on offer was gold. Candidates present all agreed to sign a pledge saying they supported the Canada Health Act and would protect it if elected to Parliament, before several speakers outlined key issues in the community.
First to speak was Edisiri Udoh, a dentist at WellFort Community Health Centre, who spoke about the importance of making dental care part of a universal healthcare system. She argued that pain from untreated dental conditions is fueling an overuse of antibiotics, extra costs in emergency rooms and the opioid crisis. “This patchwork program doesn’t work. People have to choose between rent, groceries or dental care, and they end up falling to the side. A universal healthcare system would ensure that pharmacare and dental care were paid for, meaning that no Canadian would be left behind,” she said.
One community speaker discussed his experience of Canada’s ostensibly universal system and the extra out-of-pocket costs associated with some illnesses. Jim Fitzgerald, who lives with a colostomy, said the system isn’t working because there is no federal policy for covering the long-term costs of conditions like his. He highlighted this point by describing the variable cost across Canada of the equipment he needs to live “outside of the bathtub”: in New Brunswick, patients pay for everything; in Ontario there are some grants; in Manitoba, costs are covered completely.
“This is why universal healthcare is so important to me,” Fitzgerald said. “I should be able to go to Alberta, B.C. or Newfoundland and get pouches for nothing. The same as a diabetic. People are dying every day for not getting to take their insulin.”
Though annual costs might rise at first, Fitzgerald argued governments could save a fortune long-term on emergency-room visits by shelling out for vital supplies. “If I don’t change my pouch when I’m supposed to, as some people have to, my skin will break down,” he said. “It has been found that if the government paid for it all, [they] would save a fortune on healthcare costs from us going to the emergency room. The government could pay $2,000 [annually, per patient] and it would all be done … All you guys up here who are candidates, if you get elected or not, don’t forget about the little guys. They’re the ones who are suffering every day. It’s very important.”
Candidates also listened to a presentation by Anita Tsang-Sit from the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario. Tsang-Sit spoke about the importance of safe injection sites and decriminalization in the face of Brampton’s drug crisis, while also highlighting the barriers women and some immigrants face in seeking appropriate healthcare. “My call to action for you today, for the candidates, is to look at healthcare as more than disease,” she said. “Peel back the layers of healthcare and your access to it: poverty, gender, race, and how they all affect us. Ask the why. Why did someone end up in the emergency department? Why were they homeless? Then you start to understand the complexities. We need to start accepting that there are discrepancies in our healthcare system and act on that.”
Anita Tsang-Sit of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario
However, only a few potential decision-makers were there to hear any of it. From a comprehensive discussion of the Health Canada Act and what universal healthcare means, through to testimonials from those who use the system every day, there was a wealth of information available to inform candidates of the healthcare crisis developing in the city they hope to represent. Though Boswell (Brampton Centre) and Kaur (Brampton West) were both present, NDP supporters might be disappointed their remaining three Brampton candidates were elsewhere, given the push the party is making for healthcare reform this election.
Brampton’s five Liberal candidates appear to have all headed across to Mississauga for the chance for a photo opportunity with Justin Trudeau, who was visiting the University of Toronto Mississauga campus. Ruby Sahota (Brampton North), Sonia Sidhu (Brampton South), Maninder Sidhu (Brampton East) and Kamal Khera (Brampton West) all posted social media messages showing them at the Liberal rally. Ramesh Sangha (Brampton Centre) did not tweet to say he was present but did share messages relating to the policy event.
The Conservative candidates were running normal campaign days on Sunday instead of attending the event. Arpan Khanna (Brampton North) held a community event at a supporter’s home, while Murarilal Thapliyal (Brampton West) attended a prayer gathering at the Faith Gospel Church. The party’s other three candidates did not share their locations or attend the town hall.
Commenting on the absence of Liberal and Conservative candidates, organizer Richard Antonio told The Pointer he was unimpressed. “The Conservatives have historically shied away from public exposure in town halls and public debates, for reasons best known to them,” he said. “All the Liberal candidates that were invited were incumbents [except for Maninder Sidhu, Brampton East] who have been in their seats for four years. They’ve done precious little to help Brampton and its health in the past four years. They have failed to prioritize as they should have and their no-shows yesterday says more than enough. They put their own re-election ahead of the interest of the people of Brampton.”
Though Sunday’s town hall was not filled to bursting with members of the public, either, it offered a comprehensive education for would-be politicians on how healthcare policy at the federal level could affect Brampton. Candidates, and eventually MPs, would do well to tune into the advice and testimony local events such as this offer, even if there are few votes to be won on the day.
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